I’m trying to talk myself into motherhood by obsessing over pregnancy announcement videos.
It’s not working.
A few weeks ago, a coworker visited the office with her new baby. She’s been on maternity leave for a few weeks, and strolled through pushing a buggy carrying some fleshy burrito-baby, tiny arms flailing towards the sky as it’s mother said hello to everyone.
I am childless, but more than that, afraid of babies and their accessories. Mothers make me nervous, but mothers with their children make me freeze entirely. Witnessing a woman with her child is too much to bear, like I’m in the presence of so much power that I have to look away. Naturally, this translates into inappropriate questions — So, how many stitches do you get after one of those things? or What’s it like having to feed someone with your nipples?— or by just moronically stating facts.
So when my coworker wheeled past my cubicle, decorated with profanity-stained Post-Its from my fellow childless coworkers, I looked up and said — honestly, I mean, what is wrong with me — “You have a baby!”
Without missing a beat, she shot me a smile and replied with, “And you have the Internet!” I watched her walk away, speechless for what may have been the first time in my life, before returning to my monitor: I was watching a video of Paul Rudd watching videos of himself online.
She turned the corner and I heard my other coworkers squeal with delight. I put my headphones back on and returned to Paul.
Rarely do I fall into Internet k-holes, but there is one that grabs hold of me for hours — no, days. It’s so embarrassing I clear my browser after looking at it even though no one else is likely to use my laptop.
They’re amateur videos, uploaded with the same intention of a flash mob or a public proposal or a kitten licking the ear of an elderly dog: to make you feel good, warm, your innards filling with a hot toddy made of star anise and a love that you don’t actually possess. Look up “pregnancy announcements” on YouTube and it’ll come up with a seemingly endless stream of results, the ones that keep eating up my time and the few tears I have left.
Here’s how they usually go: a young married couple (generally a daughter) gives her parents or in-laws a gift while her husband films. The gift is usually timed for Christmas, or Mother’s Day, or a birthday in order to avoid suspicion. The real focus tends to be on the mother, who excitedly tears open whatever wrapping they’ve been given.
Inside, well, it’s usually just an ultrasound photo or a onesie or a picture book, because the real gift won’t get there for another nine months. Once she realizes what it is, she falls apart into a fit of tears, or psychotic laughter, or unhinged screaming. Her husband figures it out a few minutes later, usually squeezing out a few noble tears.
I found these videos while browsing YouTube, looking for a good April Fool’s prank to play on all the people I hate. Within the first clip, I was sucked in, delighted and horrified by these strangers who were sharing so much unfiltered, insane, borderline-offensive joy with me.
Years of my life have been lost to watching these videos. When I try to work, I end up watching the same ones for hours. (My favorite is when the mother opens a box allowing a bouquet of pink and blue balloons to float out, with her grandchild’s ultrasound attached to the string. She grabs the strings and starts laughing manically while slamming the balloons down to the floor.) There are so many of them, in fact, that there are compilation videos, 10 minutes of white ladies screaming while their husbands just try to wrap their heads around an addition to the family. Some are intricate plots, others deceptively simple, but all of them are utterly devastating in a way I somehow enjoy.
I’m not entirely sure if I enjoy the videos; every time I watch them, I end up sobbing hysterically by myself, trying to hide my face from my boyfriend when he comes looking for me because he’s hearing the sound of a small dog being strangled: me, crumpled on top of my desk, barely able to squeak out, “Look how happy they are!”
I don’t buy into the sappy emotions behind the videos, the idea that a baby is a “blessing” rather than a biological fact, and yet, here I am. My whole body shivers like I’m having some ASMR-type reaction to the tears of white women. I don’t cry watching movies. I don’t cry at public proposals or those videos of dogs welcoming their owners back from combat. And yet, I cry at the sight of a 60-year-old woman opening up a new copy of a Dr. Seuss book, and being told she will soon have not one but two little babies to read it to. I cry because I want to be able to give my mom something this nice, get them excited about something this big. The problem is with whatever is supposed to come after.
I have never dated a man who didn’t want a baby. All of them talked about their future children like foregone conclusions — easier for them, probably, because in this plan, no one’s head would ever slide out of their butts. My current boyfriend is no different. All his friends have kids and he knows what to do with them, knows how to handle them. He can take them out on his own and not lose one. He can change a diaper on one kid while making sure the other one doesn’t throw herself into a toilet. Meanwhile, I’m doling out handshakes and asking what they think about “the news these days.” Some people are born with the innate ability to understand something small and feeble and stupid. I just don’t know how you can trust someone that doesn’t even have neck-control.
When I was 10, I was sure I wanted kids. A daughter, just one, because it was normal and acceptable to want and expect to have children. By the time I was 16, I wanted none, nope, never, not one.
Years later, though, I met my boyfriend, and by our sixth date, he was brushing a piece of my hair from my face, curling it behind my ear, and talking about how nice it would be to have a baby with my skin and his nose, with my teeth and his ears, someone who would inherit my bad temper and his bad jokes.
We could tell my parents by flying to my childhood home in Calgary and asking them to pose for a picture (actually a video) and announcing, “We’re having a baby!” Or we could tell his folks by giving them baby-socks as Christmas gifts and watching as their faces first register shock, and then joy. Wouldn’t it be funny? We could post these clips on Facebook and our friends would laugh and we would laugh and —
This is where it ends. I don’t want any of the things that come after you have the actual kid. None of these videos actually convince me that having a baby is a good idea for me or that now, yes, now please fill my uterus with something that will grow up only to move on, leave, and break my heart.
People ask me all the time if I want kids. Of course they do — I’m a woman in my mid-20s, so naturally strangers think it’s a reasonable and not remotely intrusive question to ask. I always say that no, not really, I don’t think I want any, and the same people are quick to brush me off and say, “Oh, you will one day.” And maybe so, but listen, lady on the subway applying liquid eyeliner next to me, who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?
I would love to love kids. I watch children file into daycares or run towards their parents at parks and I try to pinch myself to replicate the same tears that well around my eyeballs when I watch videos of pregnant women telling people they’re pregnant. I should want one, right? I wonder, watching a two-year-old lovingly caress his mother around the neck.
But I don’t. It sounds nice, I guess, to be a mom. But — and I know this sounds absurd — but what’s the end game here? You have a kid and then they, what, either make you proud or disappoint you beyond your wildest dreams? I have a very shitty cat for both of those outcomes.
What I really want is to skip over the whole mess of having and raising a child and get to the good part where you’re old and comfortable, and they come to you with a framed photo of your unborn grandchild. And you get to say, “I’m going to be a grandmother!” and you can plot all the ways you’ll spoil a peach and how little responsibility — finally — you’ll have. Because that’s all these videos are: the pure, unadulterated joy of realizing that now you get to have all the fun, and only a portion of the emotional devastation that comes with loving something more than you love yourself.
Watching these videos is the only way I know how to activate a muscle I’m not sure I’ll ever need. But, what if I do? Regardless, it’s only making me anxious, reminding me that I’m missing something that comes so easily to other women (and men). A handful of my female friends have all gotten married or engaged in the last few years, and many of them are now turning towards populating the earth. How are they so sure? Don’t they, too, need to stay up until 3:30 in the morning, browsing YouTube for the perfect video that will hit them right in the gut until they cry, and cry, and cry over a baby that they don’t even know?
Somehow, these videos make me sure I don’t want to have kids and, maybe, aware that something as small as watching a family weep over unborn offspring could change my mind. Maybe watching these videos is preparation for eventually wanting it — or, maybe, just a reminder that no, this is not for me. Either is fine by me: I’ll pick at this scab until it bleeds one way or the other.
So, sure, my coworker has a baby. It’s perfect and soft and smells nice and opens her life up in a new, wonderful way. It’s what she wanted.
But I, I will always have the Internet.